The Ghosts of Oxford: King Charles I

11th Aug, 2022

Oxford’s important role in the English Civil Wars explains the many sightings of Royalist ghosts over the years. However, one ghost had a particularly significant role in the conflict: King Charles I. Why does the spirit of the ill-fated King walk the Oxford’s streets?

The Early Life of Charles I

Charles I was born in Dunfermline Palace in Scotland, in 1600. He was the second surviving son of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, and became heir after the death of his brother. In 1625, he became King.

Disagreement between parliament and the King started immediately. Charles inherited his father’s belief that King’s were granted the right to rule by God. He refused to explain his foreign policy to the first parliament of his reign or how much it was costing the country to be at war with Spain. Parliament refused to grant him the power to levy customs duties. Things only worsened with the second parliament, which he disbanded.

The King’s relationship with his third and fourth parliaments was even tenser. The King once again disbanded parliament. He then ruled for eleven years without calling parliament.

Portrait of King Charles I
Equestrian Portrait of Charles I, by Anthony van Dyck, c. 1637–38, The National Gallery via Wiki Commons

The Start of War

When he eventually called a Parliament again, relations did not improve. The country was in deep financial trouble. In 1641 the Commons passed the Grand Remonstrance to the King. This listed everything that had gone wrong since his reign started.

 News of a rebellion in Ireland reached the Leaders of the Commons at the same time and they feared an army raised to send to Ireland could also be used against them. They demanded the King released control of his army. Furious, Charles I ordered the arrest of one member of the House of Lords and multiple members of the Commons. They escaped the city. Both the Royalists and Parliamentarians started to gather their armies.

The Nineteen Propositions were sent to Charles I by the remaining members of the House of Commons. The King realised it was an ultimatum and responded cautiously, though did not agree to all the terms. This marks the beginning of the English Civil Wars.  

His Death

Initially the Royalist cause was strong. Charles I made Oxford’s Christ Church College his base, putting the city at the centre of the conflict. However, in 1645 they lost a series of crucial battles. By spring 1646 Oxford was surrounded and the King had to flee in disguise. For more about Oxford Castle & Prison, follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

This seemed to have worked, until the King was seized and taken to London’s Hampton Court. An escape plot managed to get him successfully out of London, though not to his intended destination of Jersey. Instead, he arrived on the Isle of Wight, where the governor was loyal to Parliament.

His further attempts to escape failed. He was moved to Windsor Castle at the end of 1648 and the following year was brought before the high court of justice. He was charged with treason.

Charles I refused to plead, rejecting the legality of the court. He was sentenced to death and executed on the 30th January 1649.

The (headless) ghost of Charles I

A ghostly spectre in Oxford Caste & Prison
Is Oxford haunted?

Considering the importance of Oxford in the English Civil Wars, it is unsurprising that Royalist ghosts have been spotted in the city. This includes the ill-fated King.

Charles I’s ghost is thought to wander the halls of Christ Church College. Some sightings report he is missing a vital body part due to his gruesome execution: his head.

There have also been sightings of the King’s spirit in the Bodleian Library. The King was denied leave to borrow books from the library in 1645, so this could be a late rebellion against the decision. It is claimed that his ghost runs around the upper reading room at night and removes a book to only read one line before returning it.

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